restricted access 1. Bourgeois Culture and Modernity
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ch a pter 1 Bourgeois Culture and Modernity T he author of a conduct book entitled Elegance in Social Treatment, published in Spain at the end of the nineteenth century, wrote the following in reference to the celebration of January 6, the Epiphany of the Three Kings: “In recent years, it has become fashionable in Spain to celebrate the holiday of the Three Kings with the following ritual: at dessert time a child dressed as a medieval page enters the dining room with slices of cake covered by a white cloth. One of the pieces contains a tiny porcelain doll. Each person at the table receives a slice, and the one whose slice contains the miniature will have the honor of selecting a ‘queen of the festival’ among the ladies.”1 The writer was referring to a form of celebration adopted by the upper classes, a very small segment of the late nineteenth-century Spanish social body. He was describing the introduction of this ritual in some Spanish homes and was encouraging its adoption as a sign of elegance and distinction. The tradition of baking of a cake to celebrate Epiphany with a hidden object inside to play what was known as the “game of surprise” was not Spanish. Although in its most remote origins it seems to have been connected to the Roman commemoration of the winter solstice, the tradition in the form described by our author originated in medieval France, and its transformation into a family ritual occurred in more recent times. In France it was and still is customary to bake a cake—called gateau des rois during the Old Regime and galette des rois at present—to celebrate the Epiphany of the Three Kings. It seems that beginning in the seventeenth century this form of celebration enjoyed popularity in France, spreading from palaces and monasteries to the homes of humbler classes. The rich hid a small jewel in the cake, the poor a lima bean; everyone played the “game of surprise” and designated a queen or a king for 2 • The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-Century Spain that special day. In Spain the tradition of the gateau des rois was introduced by the Bourbons but never spread beyond court circles. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that bourgeois families, imitating the French, adopted this way to celebrate, which became quite popular despite the fact that it was imported. A similar process has occurred with many other adopted Christmas traditions. The cake with the surprise remains a popular way to celebrate the holiday of the Three Kings in the Hispanic world. In Spain, where the day is a national holiday, it is customary to eat the roscón de reyes at breakfast or as dessert with the traditional family dinner. The custom is also observed in many parts of Latin America where the Epiphany of the Three Kings is celebrated as a national holiday. The roscón de reyes, the Hispanic version of the French gateau des rois, has become an important source of income after the New Year’s celebration for bakers in countries such as Spain and Mexico, much like the galette des rois is for French bakers. If we ask Spaniards or Mexicans about the roscón or rosca de reyes, most people will answer that it is authentic to their traditions. Surely most people are not aware that this ritual was imported from a foreign country about one hundred years ago by a minority who believed that it lent them elegance and distinction. The roscón de reyes is a clear example of a custom brought to Spain by the well-to-do who were desirous of imitating the French bourgeois lifestyle and that has evolved into an act of mass consumption and a popular tradition considered genuinely Spanish.2 This is but one example among many habits introduced in the nineteenth century that have shaped the present-day lifestyle of Spaniards. Who were the introducers of imported styles, and what were they pursuing? The life story of the author of the above-cited conduct manual provides some clues to help us answer those questions. The manual was signed by Viscountess Bestard de la Torre, one of the highfalutin pseudonyms used by Alfredo Pallardó (1851–1928), a well-known Catalonian journalist and playwright who specialized in social chronicles and etiquette manuals. The majority of his articles and essays were devoted to divulging behavioral norms, manners, values...


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